By C.P. Belliappa
Title: The Telomere Problem
Author: Sharad Bailur
Price: Rs. 230
Publisher: Kindle (www.amazon.in)
Sharad Bailur, the Mysuru-based author, has just released his science fiction book ‘The Telomere Problem’. This is probably a first for an Indian author to pen a science fiction that is terra-firma based. Being a fan of Michael Crichton and Arthur C. Clarke, who also wrote in this genre, I enjoyed reading this very plausible and cleverly woven story with a strong Indian touch.
Bailur introduces the main character in the story, Dr. Gautam Bhatt, through the protagonist’s abiding fascination in the stunning beauty of the actress of yesteryears — Madhubala. Dr. Bhatt is a brilliant genetic scientist, who was involved in the cloning of Dolly the sheep.
It’s during a beer session with his buddy that Dr. Bhatt takes on the challenge of cloning his favourite actress who died in 1969. There is also a ‘la raison du coeur.’ Having been involved in research on stem cells, genetics and cloning, he is confident of duplicating Madhubala if he could somehow find blood and tissue samples of the dead actress. After some detective work, he quite miraculously locates Madhubala’s blood samples cryogenically preserved in a hospital. Dr. Gautam Bhatt is ready to play God, fully aware that he is breaking the law.
Bailur has done his research thoroughly on genetics, cloning, stem cells and nanotechnology. It’s delightful to learn the highly scientific process of cloning put across for the layman to understand the intricacies.
I will resist spoilers. The project is a success. A new Madhubala is born with all the DNA of the original Madhubala ! Dr. Bhatt names her Madhu. As she grows up under the care of her adopted parents — doctor friends of Dr. Bhatt — she predictably shows all the likeness to her clonal mother. However, she also inherits a hole in her heart, which caused Madhubala’s early death at the age of 36. Dr. Bhatt successfully fixes the problem using stem cells.
It was when Madhu was a seven-year-old that another problem — the telomere problem — surfaces as predicted by a fellow genetic scientist friend of Dr. Bhatt. Sharad Bailur succinctly explains the importance of telomere (part of human cells), in the life span of a human. Madhu runs the risk of premature aging, or a condition known as progeria (revealed in Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Paa), because of a problem in the process of cloning. It has been scientifically proven that if the length of the telomere, which keeps getting shorter as we age, is kept constant, it is possible to extend one’s lifespan indefinitely!
The story gains further momentum when Dr. Bhatt consults his scientist friends in the US for help. Dr. Bhatt and Madhu shift to Houston to receive highly specialised and long drawn treatment, which is still in experimental stage, to prevent progeria. Madhu continues her studies in the US and years later joins a medical college. But her treatment is expensive and needs weekly intervention.
Madhu grows to be an exact replica of Madhubala and not just her doppelganger. It was during a brief visit to India that some of the old-timers notice the astonishing similarity. The press picks up the news and it goes viral. Madhu, though aware of her unique birth, brushes aside the pestering paparazzi with the comment, ‘God sometimes does forget to break the mould’!
A permanent solution to her condition is finally developed with nanotechnology — nanobotics to be precise. There are several twists and turns and an unexpected ending. For sci-fi buffs, this book is a page-turner. The story has all the potentials to be made into a movie. The extensive referral work carried out by Sharad Bailur is reflected at the end of the book.
Kindle version of the book is available on Amazon.in.